When do viewers become “hooked” on a new series?

Netflix discovers Aussies take 1 or 2 episodes more than the rest of the world to become hooked on a new series.


At what point do viewers become “hooked” on a new series and stick with it till the end?

That’s the question new data research from Netflix has uncovered, measuring the point at which 70% of viewers went on to complete a series.

It has found viewers are not hooked by Pilots, but take several episodes before they are fully committed.

In the examples cited, Suits, Orange is the New Black and House of Cards hooked viewers much earlier than How I Met Your Mother and Arrow.

“Given the precious nature of primetime slots on traditional TV, a series pilot is arguably the most important point in the life of the show,” said Ted Sarandos, Chief Content Officer for Netflix. “However, in our research of more than 20 shows across 16 markets, we found that no one was ever hooked on the pilot. This gives us confidence that giving our members all episodes at once is more aligned with how fans are made.”

Australian viewers generally took one to two episodes later than the rest of the world to become hooked, but the data found Suits and The Killing caught our attention the quickest, at three episodes each.

While Pilots are clearly powerful, the data also holds interesting results for content creators, suggesting they can tell their stories at a more natural pace with a storyline that unfolds over time.

Netflix analysed its global streaming data* across the inaugural seasons of some of today’s most popular programmes – both Netflix original series and programmes that premiered on other networks – looking for signals that pointed to when viewers became hooked. It turns out that when commercial breaks and appointment viewing are stripped away and consumers can watch an entire season as they choose, you can see fandom emerge. That is, 70% of viewers who watched the hooked episode went on to complete season one or – more poetically – when members were hooked and there was no turning back.

While the data identified the hooked episode, it was shy on pinpointing exact moments**, but we have a few ideas of our own to help jog your memory… For starters, in Breaking Bad it may have taken the flip of a coin to decide whether Jesse or Walt would put the finishing blow on Krazy 8, but when the decrepit heap of a former drug dealer rains down from Jesse’s ceiling, there’s no denying viewers would stay to see how the season cleaned up (episode 2). Speaking of messes, Crazy Eyes drops both poems and fluids in her rollercoaster romance with Piper in Orange is the New Black, but it was likely the throw of a pie to defend her (then) bae’s honour that had members asking for seconds (episode 3). For Dexter another episode equals another body, this time courtesy of the “Ice Truck Killer”, but our money’s on Dexter’s trip down memory lane reliving his inaugural kill that was the real tipping point – after all, fans never forget the first time (episode 3).

“There’s a unique sense of intimacy with creating a show for Netflix. Knowing you have an audience’s undivided attention and that in essence, they are letting these characters in their home, we unfolded storylines at a more natural pace,” said Marta Kauffman. “In episode four, we see Grace and Frankie having no choice but to confront their fear, anger and uncertainty head on, which to me as a creator was a nice turning point to shift the narrative to focus on the future instead of the past; it is nice to know viewers were there right along with us.”

While around the world the hooked episode was relatively consistent, slight geographic differences did present themselves. The Dutch, for instance, tend to fall in love with series the fastest, getting hooked one episode ahead of most countries regardless of the programme. Germans showed early fandom for Arrow whereas France fell first for How I Met Your Mother. In Better Call Saul, Jimmy McGill won Brazilians over one episode quicker than Mexicans.

In Australia and New Zealand, viewers prove to hold out longer across the board, with members getting hooked one to two episodes later than the rest of the world on almost every programme.

Despite these differences, the hooked moment had no correlation to audience size or attrition, regardless of programme, episode number or country.

The data in this research was pulled from accounts that started watching season one of the selected series between January 2015 – July 2015 in Brazil, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Ireland, Mexico, the Netherlands, Norway, Sweden, the UK and US and between April 2015 – July 2015 for Australia and New Zealand. A hooked episode was defined when 70% of viewers who watched that episode went on to complete season one Hooked episodes were first identified by country, then averaged to create the global hooked episode. The hooked episode had no correlation to total viewership numbers or attrition.

*Denotes shows where for one or more countries, the programme was unavailable to watch on Netflix and therefore the average is comprised of data from fewer than 16 countries

**The Netflix research didn’t indicate exact plot points, but it did confirm episodes.

6 Responses

  1. For me it depends, some shows it’s maybe the first scene, like the relaunched Doctor Who back in 2005. But others it might take longer like with 30 Rock, didn’t much like it until well in the first season. Some others its much longer like into S2 or S3 before it’s a must see show. Others are more that I need to see it to stay in the loop.

    New shows strive to grab you from the start and unfortunately networks are all too quick to pull the trigger, just image where we would be if Seinfeld was canceled after it’s first season.

  2. It’s about how invested you are in the characters, and for a serial drama the ongoing story. Once you can’t bear to miss something that might of happened, even in a poor episode, you are hooked. This is a measure of the time take for that to happen for a certain number (30% don’t watch the series through form there).

    Pilots are full of exposition. They can have more time and money spent on them than the average episode, or may be flawed and have things that need fixing. It takes a few eps to get invested and see if the writers have enough ideas for a series. But without strong opening eps no-one will watching a show by week 3, let alone the end of the series. That’s why eps 4 and 5 are often shot before 2-3 to iron the kinks out.

  3. I usually try to give shows 2-3 episodes to determine whether I would keep watching. The pilot is usually not enough unless its extremely bad.

    Great tv is tv that is easily binge watched. Found that recently when watched the first few seasons of suits on dvd and the first season and a half that’s available of a place to go home through plus7. Plus 7 is terribly to try and binge watch a show, constant glitches around the ads. Arrow was quite easy to pick up in season 2 after they supplied a summary episode of season 1.

  4. It’s often very hard to get hooked on a new series when it is on Australia FTA, because you will miss at least one episode due rescheduling or reality running late or worse, completely pulled from the schedule only to be found later during summer, on a secondary channel or on-sold to Foxel.

  5. IMO, pilots for dramas are never a good indication of how a session is going to be. There sole purpose is to introduce characters, places and their back stories. Episodes 2 and 3 are when I decide if I am going to stick with a show or not.

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